Friday, May 18, 2018


One of the interesting aspects of wargaming is that it allows one to examine history from different perspectives. These perspectives are frequently a-historical since in our games we do not want to contemplate the savage realities of combat with sword and spear and we focus on some units hard fought last stands while ignoring their previous war crimes. Colonial wargaming in particular tends to focus on the thin red line of civilization facing off against the Native masses with some rules giving control of the natives to to a referee or a set of tables and dice. VSF takes this further, literally dehumanizing the natives by putting them on another planet.

All this philosophising is a little heavy for what is just a game of toy soldiers, but for me at least, it is possible to mix a little unpleasant history into table top amusement. Blackbirding was, and sadly still is, the practice of recruiting native workers through deceit, impressment or outright slavery; "blackbird" referring to the colour of the unfortunate natives' skin. As the fluff for Space 1889 makes clear, what happened in Earth history, also happens in alt-history on Mars.

Some where outside the Coprates Valley, a village swelters under the Martian sun. Close by, silted water flows slowly through an ancient canal.
Table setup 
A river boat chugs up the canal and a few armed figures debark, and saunter into the village.   Korvetkapitein Rom of the Force Publique Martienne watched the mercenary recruiters depart. He kept his men on deck - they were there for security, not to get their hands dirty.

The river vessel Kurtz

5 barrel Nordenfeldt and 12 pounder on the fore deck
With no trouble expected, the gun crews waited under cover - and in  the shade.

Corralling the "Goldfinches"
The "recruiters" gather up a flock of "volunteers", their rifles proving more persuasive than the meagre pay promised.

But news of the riverboat and the sorrow it brings spreads quickly up the canal.

The Copratic rescue force.
The table was setup to be interesting. I made some allowances for fields of fire from the artillery.

The three recruiters are armed with magazine rifles and are well experienced in their field. They are rated  V3S

The Force Marines are armed with single shot breech loaders, Being posted to a backwater on Mars, they are not the best of their corps and are rated T1.

The two gun crews are rated T0, the 0 being important later in the game.

On the Martian side, t
he villagers are un-armed and will generally seek to move away from any firing or conflict. When being "escorted" by the recruiters, they will move reluctantly, slowing things down for the recruiters.

The Copratic states infantry are Veterans, half muzzle loading musket, half spear rated V2. and the cavalry are heavy lancers
(because I wanted to see what they could do) rated V0H
On the move
The capture team begins to move the villagers out to the waiting river boat, while a dark and ancient stone god watches in silence from a nearby ceremonial mound.

Years ago, I was given a bag of large and small Cthulhu figures so I have to use them when I can.

Here comes the cavalry!
In the distance, the Martian relief rides and runs hell for leather to save the villagers from a short and brutal life in the gumme fields.

All hands on deck!
Alerted by the shouts from shore, the gun crews saunter to their positions.
"No targets", muttered the master gunner to no-one in particular, "It's likely just some dirt digger on his way home from digging dirt." He spat into the slow flowing silt laden water below.

Winning the initiative, the relief force moves forward. Generally I don't worry too much about movement costs for formation changes out of direct combat.

Get moving you yellow dogs!
The recruiting team manages to chivy along their volunteers, out of the village,

Faster! Faster!
...and into the open. The reluctance of the natives slows progress considerably. I rolled for movement normally then rolled another dice for direction and a third for revised distance creating a wandering path for the group. In the end the effect was not really worth it. Next time, I'll just knock a dice or two off the regular move.

There they are - get the Earthers!
I'm still using the stock initiative system meaning the passive player doesn't have much to do if they can't shoot.

Gashant paws thunder making the parched sand tremble ... shots ring out from the enemy but all go wide.  Closer to the canal bank, the shooters and cutters fan out and begin creeping through the brush.

Hold the Line!
The Earthers hold their ground while the villagers flee in terror - or is it relief.

Hold your fire you fools!
Hearing the lever on the Nordenfeldt rack back, the master gunner shouts; "Hold your fire you fools! You'll hit our own people"

In fact, there is nothing the the Soldier's Companion rules to prevent firing in this case, I just wanted to see what would happen when a heavy lancer charge goes in.  Call me a cheater if you will, it's my table ;)

The foot component of the rescue force works its way up to the edge of the brush line - unseen in all the commotion.

Again in the rules as written, moving forces cannot be concealed, but we are talking natives here so I gave them a pass, like the scene in Zulu where the impi advances and disappears into the grass.

The charge goes in and magazine rifles crash a mad minute wreaking slaughter in the ranks of the oncoming Gashants. 2d6 per rifle instead of the normal 1d6 for breechloaders.

But to no avail, the cavalry pass their morale check and the charge goes in sticking the experts like pigs.

The cavalry reform while the villagers keep running for cover. On the bloody ground, not all the Earthers are dead. Wounded left on the field in the face of the enemy results in a hefty hit to future human morale checks.
Clear lanes of fire.

The master gunner looked over the carnage - the men were dead or close enough to it that his guns would just hasten them on their way. "Target, massed horse, all guns - Fire!"

Boom! - R-r-r-r-rip!
And the big guns let fly!


And more gashants go down under a hail of lead and fire.

Vengeance grows from the barrel of a gun...
And the rescuers are defeated....

Checking for the dead....
With the obvious threat eliminated, the Force Marines double time out to see if anyone is left alive and round up the volunteers.

Two survivors are helped along with the terrified natives following behind.
Two men are detailed off to carry the wounded back to the Kurtz while the rest of the marines round up the villagers.

The Marines, carrying the wounded are just about back on board when from their hidden position in the bush the Cutters charge the boat and the Shooters charge the Marines. And thereby gaining initiative. The charge move roll was  an amazing 26" for the cutters and "enough" for the shooter. This time I did allow defensive fire.

Some cutters and shooters go down, but their morale holds and they charge home!

Repel Boarders!
The Cutters get in amongst the gun crew on the lower deck while the shooters overwhelm the marines and wounded.

Abandon ship!
The gun crews hold for a while but fail their morale - thanks to the Marines leaving wounded with the natives and decide to jump for it before they are cut up for bait. The Captain orders the hatches closed and dogged, sealing his crew into an armoured citadel away from the ravaging natives. I was not surprised to read that this was a common practice on riverboats, including those on the Missisippi - lose the cargo, save the crew. It has come back into use as a counter to modern day pirates.

Ils ont le bateau!
The remaining Marines fire ... to no great effect.

Grasping the nettle, the cutters charge in, screening the shooters as they go.
Crash!  Crash
Volleys are exchanged...

Sauve qui peut!
Casualties are light but the Marines already fragile morale snaps and they break and run.

Catching a breath....
Past the village and over a small rise - they think they are safe.

No rest for the weary....
Bu the natives catch up and the Marines are scattered to the desert to be rounded up later - if they survive....

Time to depart

The Kurtz retrieves her soaked gunners, and seeing no further chance to intervene, departs. Reports will be written, accounts will be settled.

At the end of the game, I rolled for Martian casualties and the dead were rather less than expected which bodes well for future Copratic-Belgian encounters.

It was an interesting scenario to game out, in reality some communities fought very hard to save their members from this ugly aspect of colonialism. It gave me a chance to try out artillery on the table and I was pleased to see how effective the heavy lancers were. Their close combat dice modifiers are impressive. Magazine rifles were proven again to be over powered en mass, but are a useful balancing item when fielding small heroic forces.

Overall an enjoyable game in my new space.


Robert said...

The "Kurtz"! Love it.

Great report, Pat. Very entertaining reading.

J Womack, Esq. said...

An entertaining game, for certain. It's always nice to try out a new thing or two on the tabletop.

Clive G said...

Great idea and a wonderful report. It's good to see the "others" getting to wear the white hats and be more than cutout shapes marked with "target".

Mark, Man of TIN said...

Thanks Pat G for your interesting posts - I have posted a link to your blog post from my blog - fascinating and disturbing background history!